Into the Great Wide Open

Why do we think that we know what’s going to happen most days? Because our routines sustain the fantasy that we know the future of our own little worlds. I know where I’m going to go get coffee today; I know most of the people that I’m going to spend my time with this week—these all seem like perfectly predictable things, so we assume everything will go just as we expect. But the truth is that each day is full of unknowns that we subtly avoid or flat out ignore.

It’s harder to notice new things when you’re on autopilot, cruising through your day focusing on what is normal to you. Or when you’re in your head too much — thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you cannot see new possibilities unfolding before you. You wind up limiting yourself in ways that you may not even be aware of, because of the comfortable feeling of your day-to-day life.

The Illusion of Control

Anxiety loves predicting the future. It loves controlling your future. Coming up with a million different scenarios about how you are going to make a mistake. A horrible mistake. Or imagining that someone is going to judge you. Basically cementing that idea that you’re going to get hurt. Don’t take risks, your anxiety says. Stay in your comfort zone; you’ll be relatively okay in your comfort zone, it says — isn’t that enough?

When we think we know what’s going to happen, we feel a sense of control, and sometimes a false sense of security. Our lives make sense to us because we can expect certain things to go a certain way. Letting go of control and taking a risk is counterintuitive to what your anxiety tells you to do. Or what your inner critic will dictate when you’re sitting down to write something. You may think that you’re protecting yourself from some horrible fate awaiting you. But what the negative dialogue in your head is not telling you is how you’re blocking yourself from exploring and eventually finding something amazing out there in the unknown.

Creativity and Letting Go

We value and enjoy experiencing art because it brings us something new. Art can introduce us to completely new concepts, or turn an old story on its head to reveal a new perspective. To accomplish this in your own creative work, risk is necessary. You must take risks and be willing to leave your comfort zone if you truly want to access something deeper within yourself, or to discover an avenue to express something new about the human experience. Risk can equal reward, as long as you also take care of yourself.

Taking risks on a regular basis requires you to feel good about yourself. To feel confident enough to allow yourself to make mistakes. This doesn’t mean the type of superficial risk-taking like thrill-seeking or seeking out danger; that type of behavior easily leads to a pattern of self-sabotage. But learning to be more vulnerable in you self-expression, and taking risks in your art in the form of doing things that are unfamiliar or foreign to you, can help you break out of a self-limiting or self-destructive cycle.

If you can feel confident enough that you know you’ll somehow land on your feet, and that the sting of potential failure won’t really last too long, then you can take more daring leaps. But we all need help and support. First, be sure that you have your own back. Talk positively to yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself or judge yourself so harshly for not being able to control all outcomes in life. Try to build relationships with other people who support you, who can help you regroup and refocus after life’s inevitable defeats.

Some of our greatest victories in life come from the lessons of stumbling and getting back up after losses. The point is not to avoid making mistakes, but to look beyond them. To keep opening up, as wide as possible, to discover as much as we can.